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How to Summarize a Paragraph: Essential Techniques

Updated on March 22, 2024StudentsWriting Tips

Knowing how to summarize a paragraph is an important skill to develop as a student and professional. Although it might seem redundant to summarize a paragraph—after all, a summary is usually a paragraph itself, and sometimes longer—you may find yourself summarizing paragraphs as a stand-alone assignment for school, as part of longer essays and papers, in emails, and in other mediums, such as blog posts.

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What is paragraph summarization?

Paragraph summarization is the process of writing a short overview of a paragraph that highlights its key points. A well-crafted summary lets readers grasp the central theme while sidestepping the fine details.

Summarizing a paragraph is similar to summarizing longer texts. With all types of summarization, the goal is to write a concise overview of the original text that accurately captures its main point. A summary is a resource readers can use to glean insight about a text without actually reading the original—though in many cases a summary serves as a “teaser” for the original.

As summaries of longer texts are only about a paragraph long, you might wonder how to make a single paragraph shorter. The key is to focus on the main idea and important details. When summarizing, always aim to share the critical point first and to keep everything short.

The importance of understanding the paragraph

Understanding the text is key to summarizing it accurately. This is true for any piece of writing you summarize. However, because a paragraph is usually short, the things you need to understand about it are different from, say, a novel. However, you will still need to keep in mind the themes of the surrounding text and the author’s intent.

Although you are only summarizing a single paragraph, having this context informs your writing. Knowing where and how the paragraph fits into a more substantial work can help you determine which points to highlight in your paragraph and which details to include. It can also help you determine how to frame your summary.

Steps to summarize a paragraph

Before summarizing a paragraph, you need to read the paragraph carefully. Take notes as you read it, jotting down things like:

  • Key words and phrases
  • The paragraph’s main idea
  • Supporting details
  • Concepts from other paragraphs that are referenced in the one you’re summarizing

Of all these, the paragraph’s main idea is the most important to identify. As you read, ask yourself, “What is the author communicating in this paragraph?” Generally, your answer is the paragraph’s main idea. The fundamental details you note will also reveal the main idea to you. The main idea is your summary’s foundation.

With the main idea and key details identified and outlined, write a few sentences that explain them in your own words. Don’t worry about grammatical mistakes or an awkward flow at this stage—just get a first draft onto the page. You’ll revise it later.

After you’ve written a first draft, read through it. Compare your summary to the original paragraph. Have you accurately communicated the original’s main idea? Did you include enough details to fully express this idea, or so many that the main idea gets lost? Your summary should be concise and coherent and should reflect the original’s primary message.

Note any points where you could use more, less, or better detail. Similarly, note points where your sentences can flow better or you can communicate more clearly. Use Grammarly’s sentence checker to catch grammatical mistakes and get suggestions on how to strengthen your writing. Now, go back through and revise your summary.

Dos and don’ts of paragraph summarization

Keep the following tips in mind as you write and revise a paragraph summary:

  • Stay objective. A paragraph summary is not a piece of personal writing. Maintain an academic, balanced tone throughout the summary.
  • Keep it concise. Because you’re only dealing with one paragraph, the summary will likely only be a few sentences long. Ensure these sentences effectively communicate the paragraph’s main idea and key supporting points.

Similarly, keep these in mind as things to avoid:

  • Plagiarizing the original paragraph. It’s perfectly fine to include direct quotes, but if you do, be sure to cite them properly. However, most of the summary should be in your own words. Use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker to help ensure your work is your own.
  • Paraphrasing rather than summarizing. Here’s a way to think of the difference: a summary is a “highlight reel,” and paraphrasing is condensing the entire paragraph.
  • Omitting key information. When you summarize a paragraph, you might need to mention information from its preceding or following paragraphs, or even other sections from the original work, to give the reader appropriate context for the other information included in the summary.

Example of a paragraph summary

Although they live on both land and ice, polar bears are considered to be marine animals because of their dependence on marine ecosystems. Polar bears’ primary prey are seals, but they also hunt beluga whales, walruses, and other animals. Because of this, the bears spend most of their time on sea ice, where they live solitary lives. However, when the ice melts each summer, groups of polar bears can be found on land and preying on land animals.

(Summarized from the Wikipedia article “Polar bear”—the second paragraph is the one summarized)

Practice makes perfect

Surprisingly, summarizing paragraphs can be trickier than summarizing longer text. That’s why practice makes perfect. You can practice this skill by summarizing paragraphs regularly. Try:

  • Summarizing the peer reviews you receive on your work
  • Summarizing paragraphs in news articles or blog posts you read each day
  • Writing summaries of paragraphs you encounter online

Tools and resources for summarizing paragraphs

Using Grammarly’s free summarizing tool can help you summarize paragraphs in just a few clicks. If you’re preparing something longer, you can also use Grammarly to quickly generate citations while you work and to correct grammatical and spelling mistakes as you write.

Paragraph summarization FAQs

What is paragraph summarization?

Paragraph summarization is the process of crafting a brief overview of a specific paragraph, emphasizing its main ideas and significant supporting details.

What distinguishes paragraph summarization from paraphrasing?

Paragraph summarization involves condensing a single paragraph into a concise overview that captures its main point and only the most relevant supporting details. Paraphrasing, on the other hand, entails rephrasing the content of the paragraph into a shorter form while retaining all its details.

How can I avoid plagiarism when summarizing paragraphs?

To avoid plagiarism when summarizing paragraphs, it is essential to use your own words as much as possible. Limit the use of direct quotes, and cite your source properly if you do quote directly from the original paragraph. Grammarly’s citation generator and plagiarism checker make this easy.

How can I make my paragraph summary stand out?

To make your paragraph summary stand out, start with a compelling and engaging opening sentence that captures the essence of the paragraph. Follow it up with details that provide a comprehensive understanding of the original paragraph’s content.

How can AI assist in summarizing paragraphs?

AI tools like Grammarly’s summarizing tool can help summarize paragraphs in just a few clicks. These tools help streamline the summarization process by providing concise and accurate summaries of paragraph content.

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